Political Risers: Yau Wai-ching, localist rêveries by a Chinese history junkie

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Many localists and separatists, though often criticised for harbouring a bias against China, are in fact Chinese history lovers. Yau Wai-ching of Youngspiration fits the bill.

One of the pillar concepts in Hong Kong localism is an objection to pan-Chinese patriotism, the idea that all Chinese, defined by ethnicity, should be loyal to China and by extension the ruling regime, now the Chinese Communist Party. Many believe such localist rebellious sentiment is rooted in ignorance, but Yau Wai-ching (游蕙禎) does not seem to dislike China out of blind hatred . As a Lingnan University (LingU) graduate majoring in Chinese, her knowledge in Chinese culture did not draw her closer to China, but rather provoked her to question Chinese rule over Hong Kong. The Chinese history lover decided to turn to localist politics.

The post-Umbrella generation

Yau’s first step into social movements was the protest against “patriotic education” in 2012. After the crackdown of the Umbrella Movement, she and several other Umbrella veterans co-founded Youngspiration in hope of bringing innovation to community affairs and promoting localist political ideas.

Yau stood in the District Council elections 2015 alongside Kwong Po-yin (鄺葆賢) in Whampoa East and West constituencies. Kwong was then a Youngspiration member but quit in mid-June 2016. Their biggest rivals at the time were pro-Beijing heavyweights Priscilla Leung Mei-fun (梁美芬) and Lau Wai-wing (劉偉榮). Kwong triumphed over Lau in the election, but Yau lost to Leung by a margin of 304 votes (2041 vs. 2345 votes).

Despite the defeat, Yau remained politically active and is now considering running for a Kowloon West seat in the upcoming Legco elections. To put together her election campaign, she has resigned from her clerical assistant job and works full-time at Youngspiration.

“I never consider other alternatives as that will dampen my enthusiasm,” she explains. “From campaigning on the streets, researching on policies, attending public speaking training, answering media questions, to organising protests, my schedule is packed everyday. I barely have time to eat and sleep.”

“I think I can win [the election] by investing all my efforts,” she claims with confidence. “Once I have decided to finish a task, no one can stop me.”

Fantasy of Chinese history and literature

Prior to her exposure to localism, Yau developed an interest in Chinese history and literature in her childhood. She was also a great fan of martial arts novels back when she was in primary school.

“I love Jin Yong’s (金庸) martial arts chronicles so much,” she recalls. “I couldn’t stop reading his novels even during lessons and before bedtime.”

Yau was once an aspiring writer in her teens. “I started writing my Boy’s Love (BL) fiction [also known as yaoi, a Japanese literary genre depicting romantic or sexual relationships between men, typically read and written by women] in my secondary school years,” she states. “I once put Joseph Stalin, Adolf Hitler, and Benito Mussolini into my BL stories.”

She also tells Harbour Times that she is fond of poetry by Qu Yuan (屈原), an ancient Chinese poet whose tragic suicide is commemorated during the Dragon Boat Festival, as well as Li Jinfa (李金髮), the first modernist poet in contemporary China.

Her academic background in Chinese literature and history did not make her a sinophile, however. She is very honest about her antipathy towards Chinese identity.

“I hate the traditional inward-looking narrative of Chinese history which tends to glorify the reunification of Chinese empire,” Yau remarks. “I dislike Liang Qichao (梁啟超) too.” She despises at the late Qing Chinese scholar who invented the idea of a “Chinese nation” (中華民族).

She also points out that the conventional Chinese history narrative “ignores [China’s] political and economic exchanges with regimes and ethnic groups [surrounding China]”. The myth of homogeneity across the historical lands of China bores her.

Inspired by Chin Wan

The localist “philosopher-king” Horace Chin Wan-kan (陳雲根), more popularly known by his pen name Chin Wan, used to teach at the LingU Department of Chinese. Yet, Yau has never been to Chin’s lectures during her years at LingU. “I didn’t take Chin’s media writing classes just because I have used up my credits for electives,” she explains.

Her first encounter with Chin took place outside of campus, and she was fascinated by his political philosophy. After reading Chin’s trilogy Hong Kong as a City-State, she realised “that’s the way for the future of Hong Kong”.

Traces of Chin’s influence, as well as the localist classic Hong Kong Nationalism, can be observed in her campaign. Her leaflets read “this election is not merely about head count changes, but will determine the destiny of the Hong Kong nation” (這不是一場普通的換屆選舉。香港民族,還看此役。).

The latest Chinese identity poll conducted by the University of Hong Kong Public Opinion Programme shows only 8.5% of interviewees aged 18-29 see themselves as Chinese in the broad sense, a record low since 1997. Such antipathy may not neccessarily equate blind hatred for China. For Yau, China is lovable, but only when it is at a distance, perhaps a historical one.